Aquaponics in Japan on any significant commercial level is non-existent because of Japan Agriculture’s (JA) monopolistic control over agriculture. Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants). This combination raises fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides the organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish. Aquaponics utilizes roughly 98 percent water and produces fruit and vegetables roughly 30 percent faster than orthodox farming on a fraction of the space required. JA will not allow commercial production on a large scale of aquaponics and organic fruits and vegetables because this would compromise Japan’s large fertilizer and chemical manufacturers. In fact, Japan uses more chemicals and fertilizers in agricultural compared to any other country. So enjoy your “sweet” strawberries and perfectly straight cucumbers.
Aquaponics completely changes the way vegetables and fruit can be farmed and is the best long term sustainable solution to raise vegetables and fish for protein. Although aquaponics is growing on large scale in most other countries, it is non-existent in Japan except maybe in a few research universities. To get a better understanding of the reasons why aquaponics will not be allowed on a commercial scale in Japan, the following article points out the reasons why suggesting Japan’s JA and bureaucracies governing agriculture are “anachronistic.” Much to the detriment of the Japanese people.
Aquaponics for Japan: Challenging the Hegemony of an Anachronistic Agricultural Bureaucracy
July 19, 2012 | Aragon St-Charles
The following guest post was written by Aragon St-Charles, who founded Japan Aquaponics in June of 2011 after the great earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Through this social enterprise, St-Charles aims to introduce and promote aquaponics in Japan to increase food security and insure against disruptions to the food system.
Aragon St-Charles, Founder of Japan Aquaponics
Agriculture in Japan offers a tantalizing glimpse into the past, into an era of millions of small home farms of less than a few acres providing for family sustenance and hopefully a little extra to take to market. Given the high tech reputation of Japan this may seem to be at odds with our perception of the country, and yet with the average farmer and his wife (both heartwarmingly sharing the back-breaking work) being nearly 70 years old and farming less than 5 acres of land, the dichotomy is very real.
The current state of agriculture in Japan
JA, or Japan Agriculture, is a nationwide cooperative that has very strong links to government, and an even stronger stranglehold over agriculture in Japan. The vast majority of farmers are reliant on JA not only to purchase the produce they grow, but also to provide them with loans, banking and insurance. JA even provides them with fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.
The pressure to conform to JA’s proscribed methods of farming may account for the fact that according to the USDA, “Phosphatic fertilizer application in 2006, for instance, was over four times higher per hectare in Japan than in the United States. Nitrogenous fertilizer application was two times higher in Japan, and potassium fertilizers were applied almost three times as heavily in Japan. Data show that usage of most individual insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides tends to decline over time. However, Japan uses seven times as much pesticide per hectare as the United States.”
The tableau of mist-enveloped, quaint thatched farms overlooking terraced rice paddies in a picturesque mountain hamlet may evoke warm sentiments, but the reality is much starker: tiny farms managed by severely aging farming communities using anachronistic and unsustainable farming practices, combined with rural depopulation and farmers supported almost exclusively by generous government subsidies and by punitive import tariffs. It is estimated that without import tariffs – 800% on rice for example – significant numbers of Japanese farmers would be swept away in just a few short seasons, overcome by the tide of foreign imports into a country which is already one of the highest net importers of food in the world. The TPP (Trans-Pacific Protocol) is likely to further exacerbate these very real fears and is being resisted vociferously by agricultural communities.
Whispers of change
Japan is a resourceful country, however, and individuals here spend more on food per capita income than most other countries. $300 for a pair of melons is not quite the norm, but it is not that far off as high-quality vegetables, fruits and specialty produce continue to command high prices in Tokyo’s high-class stores.
Last year’s earthquake, subsequent tsunami and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant quite literally shook up the traditional way that consumers think in Japan. There was an increase in awareness about where our food comes from, and more importantly, how it is grown. This groundswell of awareness is some years behind the movements seen in the US or the UK for example, but it is a beginning that might perhaps have been difficult to imagine just 2 years ago.
Hydroponics growers are touting their completely closed systems and proudly pronouncing to consumers: “Don’t wash our lettuce! Our laboratory conditions (it is hard to call them farms) are cleaner than the tap water – so don’t dirty our produce by washing it!” It may not be the best message to send as the lettuces are still produced with a wide array of chemicals, but it is a step in the right direction. It shows innovation and a desire to implement high-density farming projects in an urban environment (important when you consider how little available farmland there is in Japan, and how government restrictions make it almost impossible to either sell or buy farmland here.) It pushes the conversation about agriculture further down the road and helps to educate consumers.
Interestingly, trading houses and companies almost exclusively run hydroponics facilities in Japan – there are very few private individuals invested in hydroponics. This may be unsurprising when you consider that according to private research conducted by a hydroponics think-tank in Japan, almost 90% of hydroponic facilities post annual losses. Barriers to entry are also very high; in addition to high initial capital costs, it is difficult to obtain farming licenses here and so most facilities choose to register instead as “plant factories”.
The last year has seen a number of high-profile individuals and investors look towards the ailing agricultural sector with an eye toward alternative agricultural technologies. Companies are also looking at new technologies to reinvigorate the sector, raise quality and profitability, and encourage younger generations to return to farming. Projects such as Pasona02, an underground hydroponics facility in the headquarters of an influential recruiting firm in the heart of Tokyo, represent a sampling of what is in the air in Japan.
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